What you see: The Foot, a key paper cutout element used in the opening credits of a 1971 one-off Monty Python’s Flying Circus television special that was filmed in German. The piece may have been used in the opening credits of the main series. Vectis Auctions sold it for £16,800 (about $22,000) against an estimate of £400 to £600 (about $525 to $800) in July 2014. It’s a world auction record for a prop used to create the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show.
The expert: Kathy Taylor, a specialist in the Vectis TV and Film Department.
Are you aware of any other Monty Python’s Flying Circus props coming to auction before Vectis sold The Foot? It’s unknown. I did try to research it when I received The Foot, but I couldn’t find anything. There have been animation storyboards on occasion, but nothing like this.
How did The Foot come to you? David Brookman [the consigner] telephoned us. He saw an article in the Sunday supplement about Vectis Auctions and he approached us with the idea that he could sell it. It was a piece of photographic paper, rolled up in a tube that he kept under his bed since he worked on the animation in 1971.
How did Brookman come to receive The Foot? He worked for a company that was asked to do the shots for the animation [of the one-off 1971 German-language special]. I think it was quite a brief time he worked with Terry Gilliam, a couple of days. When they finished, Gilliam asked would he like it, and he signed it. It was quite tatty.
We know The Foot was used for the opening credits of the German-language special, but was it used to film the credits for Monty Python’s Flying Circus? We don’t know for certain. I suspect a lot of these cutouts don’t survive. They were used and thrown away. Gilliam would rush in with a briefcase or a box of cutouts, tip everything out on the desk, and instruct the cameraman [who, in this case, was David Brookman] to photograph them in a certain way to make the animation. That’s why it’s so tatty. It’s seen quite a lot of life.
Do we have any idea how many photographic cutouts Gilliam made of this element of his animation? No idea. Maybe he has more than one. I don’t know if he kept others.
And Brookman kept The Foot in a tube under his bed until he brought it to you? It was probably in that state when he was given it. I don’t think he thought much about it. He unrolled it and it was quite large. I think it was two feet by 18 inches. It was quite fragile. He came up with the idea to frame it, to make it look a little better and to preserve it.
How did you come up with the estimate of £400 to £600? I’m guessing there were no similar things that sold at auction that you could look to… We had no idea what sort of money it could fetch. I thought £400 to £600 was a lot of money for a tatty bit of rolled-up paper, but it’s an iconic image we all remember. The sum was his expectation. We asked, “What’s the least amount of money you’re prepared to part with it for?” If it had achieved £400 to £600, he would have been happy.
What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a bidder. There was quite a lot of interest in The Foot. A lot of people thought they could afford it. People turned up in the room to bid, but they all dropped out. It did go to a telephone bidder.
What was your reaction to the sale of The Foot–watching it climb from three figures to five? It was pretty crazy [laughs]. Absolutely crazy. I wondered who these people were who would want it. Some were connected with Python. The vendor [Brookman] was sitting there going a very peculiar shade of pink.
I imagine you thought it would beat its estimate, maybe double or triple it, but you didn’t think it would go for £16,800… No, never in a million years. But it was lovely for the vendor, who looked after this thing all those years and never imagined it was worth that sort of money.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because it came from out of the blue, as things do here. I was twelve when Monty Python was popular on TV. We would reenact it at school. It was pretty amazing handling something that was so iconic and part of my youth and which we think of with such affection. The actual value of this piece is its strong provenance. To actually have someone consign who worked with Gilliam–there’s nothing better.
Vectis Auctions is on Twitter.
A local English paper covered the July 2014 sale of The Foot and included an image of David Brookman holding the framed piece. It is surprisingly large.
Terry Gilliam lifted The Foot from a circa 1545 painting by Agnolo Bronzino most commonly known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. It’s in the lower left corner.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Vectis Auctions.
Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.